Black Friday Sales Tanked?

According to this business reporter, Walmart is the reason Black Friday sales were down this year. While that is probably not the case, or at least not the whole picture, the results from Black Friday have proven interesting. The in-store sales numbers were down, while the online numbers were up 14.3 percent over 2013. Many retailers, including Walmart, chose to mark down items in the weeks leading up to Black Friday, giving consumers an opportunity to bargain shop in advance. Plus, the convenience of online shopping is difficult to overcome. It’s easy to grab a tablet and shop while lounging in your favorite chair.

So how does a retail brick and mortar establishment compete with this type of convenience? Create an amazing in-store experience!

Did Your Customers Have the Best Experience?

Customers have opinions about how you do business, and if you don’t succeed in fulfilling their expectations, they will shop somewhere else. A big part of what they want is an innovative, personalized experience that enables them to utilize online technology and access inside a brick-and-mortar store. That is a tall order!

Making reasonable and strategic efforts to fulfill customer expectations is important for 2015, particularly for those retailers who spent time this year analyzing the customer journey. To truly appreciate the importance of having a point-of-sale (POS) system that empowers customer expectations, consider who is actually doing the shopping over this holiday season.

According to a new report by Bankrate.com, a majority of Americans did not plan to shop on Black Friday or Cyber Monday.  They expect to find deals throughout the holiday season. The report also stated that Millennials were expected to be visiting stores on Black Friday in higher numbers than older Americans, and we are very aware of the tech-savvy, mobility centric ways of this generation.

As reported by the U.K. publication Retail Systems, a study by 1010data shows many Americans prefer to shop in stores because they do not want to wait on shipping. Additionally, 97 percent of study participants claimed they would purchase gifts early this year, with half of those starting before Thanksgiving and one in five participating in Black Friday. The reason? They want to ensure product availability.

Fully Connect with Your Shoppers

Whether catering to Millennials, bargain shoppers or early-birds who want to make sure they get that perfect gift, there are ways to improve the experience by embracing technology that your customers really want.  First, let’s discuss what that actually is:

Going Mobile

Shoppers are price and comparison shopping from the floor of your store. They are constantly connected now, and want to have that experience enabled in their brick-and-mortar store experience. This constant connectivity also changes the behavior of a shopper. They are no longer willing to wait in line to make a purchase. They believe they can find what is needed online and will simply exit your store if they are made to wait.

In addition, shoppers have significantly more information at their fingertips, so they are able to not only price shop, but feature compare as well. If the item you have in stock is not what they want, they will go find it somewhere else.
Fortunately, you can update your current POS to include mobility solutions that allow you to achieve the following:

  • Real-time access to data on the selling floor – Now you know what merchandise is in-stock, so you can serve customers more effectively.
  • Better up-selling and cross-selling – Get that key data to sales associates to help them to make better recommendations to customers.
  • Improved communication – Your team can collaborate from the sales floor, again better serving customers without sending them all over the store.

Dynamic Advertising

The ability to deliver real-time information and highly targeted messages is available now. Customers really want to feel like you care about them and are appreciative they shop in your store. Adding digital signage to a POS system provides you the opportunity to:

  • Reach customers where they shop
  • Increase sales volumes of higher margin merchandise
  • Suggest add-on merchandise to increase average purchase volume
  • Incorporate real-time data to present timely and relevant offers to customers at the point they make the buying decision
  • Customize messages for local storefronts easily

Now you can easily get that “wow” factor in your store and enhance the customer shopping experience.

Time to Go High Tech

Retailers who are able to cater to the connected nature of their shoppers will win the in-store experience, and have the ability to better compete with online retailers. However, to do so requires adding a strategy to improve mobility, interactivity and information by empowering the sales staff to access data and sell from the floor. Fortunately, NEC has retail solutions available now and can support you in implementation so you can stay focused on your business.

This is just the beginning. There are many more exciting technology trends coming that improve the customer experience, support better data analytics and increase security. Retail is in for some exciting innovation!

Did You Consider This in Your 2015 IT Budget

Your IT budget planning is most likely well underway and you are probably putting the finishing touches on it. Or perhaps you work for one of those organizations that has a fiscal year that does not align with the annual calendar, and you are in research mode. Either way, deciding where money will be well spent is a significant planning process. The word “budget” can be such an intimidating and restricting word to many…but it’s an essential annual process and perhaps could be viewed as a way to limit unnecessary expenses and maximize the value of the investments to enable your business.

To prioritize your 2015 IT expenses, it is important to consider the following to ensure you have allocated enough budget dollars. Not only will considering these as priorities help set up your IT team for success, but the addition of strong strategic partners for managed services will place your core team in the driver’s seat for more strategic and revenue-generating activities, leaving other less-strategic IT tasks to a value-added partner.

The Complexity of Big Data

Big data is here, and will continue to be an important part of every organization’s IT department. It is important to recognize that multiple aspects of a big data strategy enable your access to the best information. These include:

  • Acquiring and storing data securely
  • Analyzing data effectively
  • Ensuring your team has the right skills to manage this process

Fortunately, you do not have to go it alone. NEC offers complex Analytics and Big Data that turn your data into valuable insights for your business. Think of these insights as priceless intellectual information your business can use to make smarter decisions. Maximize your business potential by using analytics to decrease costs, improve revenue, drive profitability and increase customer satisfaction.
While your team is focused on the core of your business, the NEC team will partner with you to bring big data to life, unlocking the intelligence hidden in the data, while also supporting any planning and implementation. Our solutions work in the NEC Cloud, on-premise and hybrid deployment models and leverage multi-vendor strategies.

How Do You Cloud?

Cloud services provide an excellent way to empower a mobility strategy, as well as ensure rapid provisioning of seasonal and temporary employees. In fact, enterprise mobility removes many barriers for employees who are either on the road or in remote locations, ensuring they can access enterprise applications quickly and easily. However, the use of cloud in your organization is something that requires strategic thought.

There are many concerns about cloud applications, including security and reliability. What applications should you actually use in the cloud? Are there some that should remain on-premises? Can you be certain that the cloud services will meet your needs?

This is an area where the NEC team can bring broad experience to your table. Our Cloud Services team provides solutions that transform your business by bringing together people, applications and smart devices to deliver communications and collaboration solutions through the cloud. For example, Desktop-as-a-Service or DaaS is a cloud service that deploys virtual desktops that users can access from any device, anywhere. Talk about flexibility for your business! One of the benefits of DaaS is that it enables your business to step into cloud usage in a strategic manner, while giving you peace of mind regarding security and access, all without touching critical enterprise applications, such as financial software.

The NEC team offers a solid strategy that meets your specific environment, from on-premises to hybrid to public cloud services. The important thing is that your business requirements are considered and met without interruption through a seamless integration. Our team is well-versed in creating this environment so you can utilize the cloud to maximize your business while minimizing any risk.

Finding the Best Managed Services Partner

Knowing which services are core to your business or simply routine, but still important, is a key decision to be made…so that leaves the question: Do you have all the expertise in-house to properly evaluate the many aspects of IT and then make the best decision for your organization? With the ever-changing landscape, particularly in the areas of security, cloud and virtualization, it is extraordinarily difficult to have all the talent in-house you need to make the best decisions and implement the right solutions while still contributing to the company bottom line.

Our Managed Services teams understand all these complexities, and have built a strong talent pool to execute our offerings. We believe that rather than trying to do it all on your own, you should have the option to align with experts who act as an extension of your existing IT team.

Our managed services offering, NECommand, enables business through important IT solutions in three key offerings: nBuild™, nMaintain™, and nManage™. These services provide you with the level of expertise for your particular environment, whether it’s implementing a new system, providing administrative functions and maintenance to free up your internal IT talent, or managing those complex systems such as security, we have created services to align with your business needs.

Budgeting and Beyond

The typical budgeting process often means “take what you have done, add or subtract by percentages and submit the number.” However, with the consistent fluctuations in IT, you should probably ask yourself is it better to rely on historical experiences alone to make important business decisions? Instead, consider working with NEC to help you manage your IT future and make solid business decisions that can enhance your bottom line.

You can learn more about our Analytics and Big Data, Cloud and Managed Services by visiting our web site, where you will find white papers, videos and other information to help you make the right adjustments to your 2015 IT budget.

Armchair Quarterbacks Rejoice! Big Data is In the Game!

When it comes to football, everyone has a favorite team. The fans not only cheer their hearts out, but they feel as if they are an integral part of their team. Well, now thanks to big data, fans will feel like they are an even bigger part of the game!

Have you ever found yourself yelling at the television, trying desperately to tell the players what their next critical move should be? With the emerging advancements of big data and analytics, armchair quarterbacks will have up-to-date information and statistics at their fingertips. And it’s coming to you this season!

Big Data enters the NFL

Photo by AJ Guel on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.

The National Football League (NFL) announced that in-game player tracking technology will be available for the 2014 season in 17 stadiums. Using RFID tracking chips on every player, the NFL will now be able to measure player orientation. This initiative, called “Next Generation Statistics,” will provide insights that will be available primarily on Thursday Night Football games shown on the NFL Network.

The implementation of RFID tracking chips will provide a statistical link between the players and the fans. The technology measures distance within motion-based systems. These chips will track players’ movements and positions wherever they are on the field. Talk about an interactive fan experience! This level of “Next Generation Statistics” occurs in real-time and provides a wide-range of data types which include:

·         Precise positioning data

·         Velocity

·         Acceleration

·         Run distance

·         Impact measurements

This data can be collected, processed, and presented to the audience in a matter of seconds, ultimately enhancing the football experience. It makes you wonder…could this information potentially create a more perfect game of football?

The players and coaches will have the ability to see exactly what occurred in any particular play, and giving them information to make the necessary changes for improvement. No more questions about who made a mistake because information will be broken down into statistics that can be analyzed and dissected by coaches and fans alike. It will make for an exciting, interactive 2014 season for sure!

Big Data – Most Valuable Player                                                                                        

The NFL initiative is following both the NBA’s and NASCAR’s foray into using big data to augment the fan experience. In the case of the NFL, fans will have access to statistics previously unavailable, but also broken down in a spatially oriented way so the fan can actually understand what happened, to whom, how and where.

Converting huge volumes of collected data transforms the information into a meaningful set of numbers, revealing unexpected patterns and correlations. This provides an opportunity for fans to be more informed, as well as coaches and players who can make better decisions going forward.

However, just like any winning team, big data needs a quarterback. In this case, it would be analytics. Frequently we talk about big data as a singular “event” where data comes in and then back out as a usable source of information. However, without analytics, big data is well, just large amounts of data.

The winning team of big data and analytics has been a focus for NEC for some time. The combination helps make sense of the abundance of available data that reside within the enterprise and transforms it into trustworthy insight and advanced analytics for sustainable intelligence.

For the NFL, the use of big data and analytics will provide new perspectives from a variety of viewpoints right after the play takes place. Now, the game will be viewed from the inside out and millions of eyes will not only be watching, but they will be in on the action as well.

The technological advances of big data and analytics are providing us a more in-depth glimpse at the world we live in. Experiences that could never be fully understood before are now being displayed in detail through real-time big data and analytics.

To learn more about big data and analytics and how they can be used in your industry, check this infographic provided by NEC and Aberdeen Group – Predictive Analytics and Big Data: A Powerful Combination.

IERS is Built for Elasticity

If you stop to think about it, the relational database (RDBMS) is a pretty remarkable piece of technology. Can you name another product category that has remained essentially unchanged since it was first introduced roughly 40 years ago?

However, in 2014 the RDBMS is no longer the “be all and end all” of database technology. An RDBMS can’t meet the demands placed on it by big data and cloud computing. Data entry has changed dramatically also. Instead of a requirement to scale with the number of data processing employees, there is now a requirement to scale with the number of customers, or to give a more dramatic example, to scale with the number of devices or sensors in a machine-to-machine (M2M) or Internet of Things (IoT) scenario. Many enterprises have outgrown their RDBMS, as have most telecommunications providers.

All up and down the application stack we can see the ability to scale out and in quite easily. By definition, big data requires an elastic database that can scale across multiple storage and compute nodes. Other technology that was created to be elastic, such as NoSQL and NewSQL, are more appropriate for big data environments.

How to Know if You Need Elasticity

Not every project requires an elastic database. When one does, things go much more smoothly if you can figure that out in advance and plan accordingly. It’s much easier if you make the effort to plan for an elastic architecture from the beginning. Look at your planned load and your projected growth and ask yourself whether it will exceed the capacity of your current hardware/software architecture. Will your database requirements fluctuate in demand? Will there be daily, weekly, monthly, and/or seasonal changes in the number of servers required? For example, if you have an analytics application that requires eight database nodes 24×7, yet peaks at 14 nodes for four hours every night, then elasticity is important.

NoSQL, NewSQL, and Elasticity

When NoSQL systems were initially being designed, emphasis was placed on scalability. In many cases, this meant eliminating many of the features that had been added to RDBMSs over time: powerful query languages, database consistency guarantees, durability, atomic operations – and just about everything else. At this point we had lots of elastically scalable databases that offered little else, whereby making them unusable except for very specific use cases.

NewSQL goes beyond NoSQL and stipulates that elasticity isn’t the only thing that matters and is instead a baseline requirement. Many of the things that we gave up (such as SQL) in our quest for elasticity are important. NoSQL required many of these things to be built into applications (increasing complexity and cost) and now we want them back in the database layer where they belong.

IERS is Built for Elasticity

In addition to having elasticity in its name, NEC’s InfoFrame Elastic Relational Store (IERS) was designed from the very beginning to provide a high-performance elastically scalable database with full ACID capabilities. IERS’ scale-out architecture expands your system without downtime as demand and data volume increases. This allows you to start small, save on unnecessary resource investments and then scale out easily based on demand. Minimal to no application modification is required to scale out or in.

IERS can scale out easily and quickly. System resource can be added while the system is live and in production, enabling the system to be reconfigured on-the-fly without downtime. Also, as the system scales out, automatic rebalancing of the data takes place. This process does not impact user operations. IERS sports an easy to use web based GUI that allows administrators to scale-in/scale-out with a few clicks from anywhere in the globe. Process once initiated requires no further human intervention.

To learn more about NEC’s IERS solution visit:  http://goo.gl/TnFkbR

Matt Sarrel *Matt Sarrel is a leading tech analyst and writer providing guest content for NEC.

The Importance of Key Value Stores

Key Value Stores are perhaps the most common form of NoSQL and NewSQL databases.  They consist of (surprise!) keys and values and are built from the ground up to store and retrieve these values as fast as possible.  For this reason, a KVS is considered an excellent way to store and retrieve information for high-traffic web sites and other high-performance content, but not the greatest for transaction-driven projects.   According to DB-Engines, key value stores are one of the more popular non-RDBMS databases in use.

Structurally, KVS are the most straightforward of the NoSQL databases and this basic underlying factor accounts largely for why they are so mind-bogglingly fast.  The beauty of a KVS is its simplicity.  Instead of worrying about complex schema and data relationships (as with a traditional RDBMS), a KVS just has to store and retrieve values linked to a key.  The most commonly implemented KVSs include Redis, Riak, and VoldemortNEC’s IERS is built on top KVS with many added enhancements.

It’s easier to understand a KVS if you first look at a traditional RDBMS.  Think of this as a structured and table-based database.  For example, if you’re working with employee data, you’d have a table with columns for each field you wanted to track and a row for each user.  It would look something like this:

ID First Name Last Name
1 Homer Simpson
2 Marge Bouvier
3 Herschel Krustofsky

The table approach works well if you have a reasonable number, a few dozen to a few thousand, of people to track.  It also works well if you can do your queries off-line where speed isn’t an issue, and can do your batch processing for reporting at off hours because those reports will take a considerable amount of time.

However, in the big data world we don’t have the luxury of running queries and reports during off-hours.  Whatever it is, in the big data world we need it now.  Not only that, the traditional table shown above may become a big management mess when it’s too big to fit on a single server. Taking the example to a KVS, imagine that you’ve got users instead of employees.  Now you’re talking about millions of records instead of thousands, and they need to be available quickly from around the world 24/7.  When a user logs in, he wants to be able to have instant access to his account.  Plus, not every user record has every bit of information as every other record; some users may provide their phone numbers, some may not.  Each record potentially has a different length and different values.

To store and retrieve this kind of data quickly, you generate a key for each record and then store whatever fields (what would have been columns in the table above) are available.  Each field is comprised of a data name and the data itself.  If you don’t have a particular piece of data, instead of leaving an empty cell in a table you simply don’t store the data name / data combination.

Let’s take a look:

Key: 1 ID: HS First Name: Homer

 

Key: 2 Email: mbouvier@gmail.com City: Springfield Age: 34

 

Key: 3 Twitter ID: @hkrustofsky First Name: Herschel Occupation: Clown

As you can see, users can log in using ID, email, or Twitter ID.  This simply wouldn’t have been possible using a traditional table style RDBMS.  Also, queries need to be built around keys because there are no field (or column) names.  There’s no need to pull data from multiple tables, reformat it and import it into another table just so users with different information stored can log in.

NEC’s IERS takes advantage of the straightforward nature of a KVS.  I blogged about this a few weeks ago when I posted coverage of my interview with Atsushi Kitazawa, the “father” of IERS.  Due to the nature of a storing multiple values associated with a unique key, distributed KVS performance is predictable.  A KVS is usually partitioned to run on multiple nodes.  Because each key is unique, all values associated with a key, regardless of where the values are physically located, are equally accessible.

So there you have it, an explanation of KVS’s and how they work.  While a KVS forms the foundation of NEC’s IERS, there are plenty of enhancements that take IERS above and beyond what the average KVS is capable of.  In particular, IERS provides a high-performance and consistent environment with transparent scaling for transactions.  My next posting will discuss these advantages and how to make the best use of them when developing for IERS.

To learn more about NEC’s IER’S solution visit:  http://goo.gl/TnFkbR

Matt Sarrel *Matt Sarrel is a leading tech analyst and writer providing guest content for NEC.